THE PARTITION OF INDIA 1947
COURTESY: LIFE MAGAZINE
Last night I was up till midnight watching Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth, a moving and poignant film on the most gruesome event recorded in human history- The Partition of India. As I watched that movie, tears streaming down my face I couldn’t help but feel for all those people who went through such an upheaval, the terror and torture of their lives. The pain and loss was not just about losing their homeland, trade, profession, friends but the violence that ensued with the partition which was more horrific and dreadful.
As per the statistics over 1 Million people died (and this is a very conservative estimate) and over 24 Million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were displaced in this process, countless women were raped and mutilated, children disappeared and many left with a life long scar. It is very difficult for our generation or the ones to come to imagine what it must feel to be uprooted from everything you had known all your life, worse yet to come face to face with the inhumanity of it all, the inner demon hidden inside all of us just waiting to pounce.
One wonders could this have been prevented? Could a united India be possible had the leaders at the time refused to part? Could the British have done anything to avoid this? Lets look at this through events that unfolded at the time of Independence.
The Two Nation Theory
It was the poet philosopher Muhammad Iqbal who first put forth the Two Nation theory in 1930, the theory highlighted that Hindu and Muslims belong to two communities where there’s no possibility of co-existence for the custom, practices, beliefs culturally, socially and politically were poles apart. It is thus in the best interest of both the communities to live separately and govern themselves.
Basis this philosophy Jinnah started building his own political agenda demanding the British for a separate nation for Muslims- later called as Pakistan.In all his public speeches he kept iterating on how the only way to preserve Muslim interests and to prevent them from becoming a minority in Independent India can only be done if they are in charge of their own governance.
Truth be told this was just a pretext for Jinnah to be in power. Between Jinnah and Nehru, Nehru was pipped to be the new Prime Minister of Independent India by the British and this was for all reasons not acceptable to Jinnah. It is only for his own political interests he forged ahead with the two nation theory, for if you observe his own personal habits and way of life, he was not a devout Muslim at all, he drank alcohol and ate pork. It was only and only for his advancement he propagated this theory which lead to its devastating effects. The more divisive speeches the more people got riled into this causing irreparable tension between the communities
World War II and Britain’s Hurried Exit
The ending of WWII in 1944 left Britain in deep debt and virtually bankrupt. Facing internal crisis it became increasingly difficult for the British to hold on to the empires it had built over the years, India of course was one of them. Not only was the struggle for independence stronger than ever in India besides that the British were simply tired to hold on. The increasing unrest amongst the Indian coupled with the anxiety to deal with the problems at home first led British to push for a hasty exit plan.
Lord Mountbatten was assigned the job to oversee the transition and he was given a deadline of June 1948 to complete this, India was to be given its independence in 1947, Mountbatten post that was to act as an administer for another year and then finally move out.
The problem was these timelines were too short.
The tensions between Muslims and Hindus was at its peak, Jinnah refused to be part of the united Indian government and kept insisting on Pakistan while Nehru never showed an resistance to the idea either. These divisive issues were frankly too deep to have been resolved so quickly. The British however didn’t care, they wanted an out so after many rounds of negotiation when things were not moving ahead Mountbatten finally consented the partition.
The deed was done.
Pakistan would become Independent on 14th August 1947 and India would follow a day after.
The Final Blow
Once this decision to divide came through- Cyril Radcliff was appointed the chairman of the committee assigned the daunting task of partitioning the two countries. The trouble was Radcliff had no knowledge about India and its people, he simply divided basis geographical boundaries and disregarded the nature of population that lived in those areas. For Eg Sialkot with its large Hindu-Sikh population was given to Pakistan, similarly Gurdaspur where majority population were Muslims was given to India. Once decided there was no scope for any revision or going back.
Now imagine midst this situation it must be really difficult for the people to cope with this unjust pattern, being shuffled like this in a haphazard manner. Naturally this had to lead to confusion in fact a widespread hysteria ensuing terrible violence as people exchanged cities.
On August 14th 1947 the first news of mass scale violence started to erupt in Punjab, Delhi, Calcutta amongst many others. Violence perpetrated from Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. While people were packing their belongings hurriedly whatever they could grab there would come news of men burnt alive, women raped, their breast cut off and hanged, children mutilated and all sorts of sordid news. Trains coming from India would be full of dead Muslims in sacks, same thing would be of those coming from Pakistan.
Bestiality was at its peak, bloodied bodies everywhere, fear, panic, heartbreak all round. It was a time of unprecedented and unimaginable terror that brings tears to anyone till this day. One can’t help but think was it worth it? It is believed that after things settled down, understanding the after effects both socially, politically and economically was just too much to bear.
The worst part is we have still not got over this hatred. Indians hate Pakistanis and Pakistanis hate Indians. Does anyone stop to think why? It takes just one cricket match between the two countries to set us on edge, ready to take out our guns. Why does it happen? What is so fundamentally different between the two? We all worship the same spirit of God just that its manifestation is different. Is that so great that we are ready to kill each other in its name? I don’t think there’s a single religion on this earth which preaches intolerance, open any holy text read and see. Then why does this tendency persist?
I’m not sure if we will get answers to these questions. I don’t believe in religion and frankly I think I’m fine this way, if this what following a religion trains you to do.
For the curious reader- Here are a few books I recommend if one wants to read on this further
1) Urvanshi Butalia- The Other Side of Silence
2) Khushwant Singh- Train to Pakistan
3) Alex von Tuzelmann: Indian Summer :The Secret History of an End of an Empire
4) Bapsi Sidhwa: Cracking India
5) Larry Collins: Freedom at Midnight (Ignore the glorification of Mountbatten)
Few Movies on Partition
1) 1947 Earth
2) Midnights Children
4) Garam Hawa